In a crashed Reclaimer I found traces of the crew and memories of old times.
We struggled through dense vegetation and rough terrain. It was pitch dark. You could hardly see your hand in front of your eyes. Only the starry sky shone above us in a radiant splendor. The wind was so strong and loud that even over the radio I had difficulty understanding Hermieoth. We were on our way to the crashed Reclaimer. To remain undetected, we landed the White-Rabbit three kilometers away from the crash site. Actually we wanted to fly the last part with the Dragonfly. But it did not want to. The cooler was defective. Drake delivers great quality. As if a cooler on the ice planet Microtech would have to perform much.
After finding crew notes from a crashed Reclaimer in the abandoned settlement by the river, I set out to find the survivors. I found more clues in New Babbage. Finally, I got a tip on where to find the wreck of the Reclaimer. The crew of the Reclaimer had been attacked at the crash site by Nine Tails. I had to assume that I would encounter enemy pirates there. That was why I had asked Hermieoth to accompany me. But the Nine Tails were not my only concern.
Before leaving, Hermieoth had warned me about Ray Keaton. Until now, I had assumed that my first encounter with Ray had been on the F.R.O.S. trip. But this was not so. Hermieoth told me that Ray had been one of Eris’ bodyguards, back at the Renaissance. We had stunned him and Eris during the operation and left them on Grim Hex in a Cutlass Red. Because of that operation, Ray was out for revenge. Hermieoth had already been screwed by him. Most likely, Ray had it in for me, too.
But why revenge? I couldn’t figure out why Ray was holding a grudge. He was not hurt. Mentally absent, I trudged through the night. My thoughts revolved around the events of that day. Suddenly the world revolved around me. I looked straight up at the starry sky, then down at the ground, then back up at the starry sky. After a wild slide party down the steep slope, I was lying in the dirt a few feet below. Mud stuck to the visor of my helmet. What a bummer. The bullshit with Ray was distracting me. I had to get it out of my head and get back to focusing on the here and now.
After I got myself back up, we continued walking up the mountain. At some point we could see the glow of a fire through the trees below us in the valley. We had almost reached the crash site.
Unlike me, Hermieoth was all eyes and had a good view of the situation.
“Up there from the cliff we should be able to see the crash site. Keep your helmet light off. Don’t let anyone else see us.”
Hermieoth was already almost on top of the rock while I was still trying to wipe the mud off my visor.
“I think I see someone.”
Hermieoth had to have eagle eyes. I could see absolutely nothing. Using the sniper rifle, I tried to get an overview.
“Oh great. The scope is gone. Must have lost it when I fell. I can’t see if anyone is by the wreckage. I think we’re better off in the light.”
We waited until Stanton’s central star had climbed above the horizon. In daylight, we crept through the bushes. The wreck of the Reclaimer was barely visible among the dense foliage. Let alone the Nine Tails. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was tense. Again and again Hermieoth asked if I could see anyone. Sure enough, I saw something. Leaves, lots of green leaves.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a rusty brown steel wall stood in front of me. The wreck of the Reclaimer, we had reached it. The gigantic salvage ship had broken apart in the middle. Between the two halves was an open area. It looked like a courtyard of an apartment complex. The whole wreck looked like a multi-story apartment building. Balconies had been built from steel plates. Awnings made of cloths waved over them. There were several levels of flats, openings, and ladders. The Nine Tails could be lurking everywhere.
The wreck had to have been here for a long time. The fabrics of the awnings were tattered at the edges. Broken steel walls revealed the inner skeleton of the ship. Nature had reached out her green hand to the ship. Made the wreck part of the landscape. Plants sprawled over the rusty hull of the ship. Tendrils poured over the hull like a waterfall.
Cautiously, we crept around the crash site, keeping a lookout for the Nine Tails. There was an eerie silence. Hermieoth was the first to discover an entrance into the interior of the wreck. Plant life had spread here as well. It rustled and crunched under our boots. But the deeper we penetrated into the interior, the darker it became. Only a weak light reached the innards of the wreck. It was eerie. Shadows danced across the walls. They tugged at our nerves. Suddenly, a scream echoed through the corridors. It was so intense that the radio shook.
“Zero, are you okay?” Hermieoth almost whispered.
I stood rooted to the spot in the remains of the cockpit, staring at the co-pilot’s seat. Someone was sitting on it. A steel beam went through the seat and came out of the chest. Under the helmet was a grimace. Skin and flesh were no longer there. Only the bare bones of the skull were left.
“Yeah, I’m okay. I was just scared to death. There’s still someone from the crew sitting here.”
“OK. Let’s go to the stern. Maybe we’ll recognize the name of the ship.”
Through the broken cockpit window we got out into the open.
Slowly, I had recovered from my fright and could think clearly again. “The crew’s notes said they were followed by the Nine Tails. I guess they didn’t come back.”
Hermieoth was not convinced. “Let’s be careful anyway. Can you make out the name of the ship?”
“No. It’s all rusty and unrecognizable. Maybe we’ll find clues in the captain’s quarters.”
We reached the upper level of the stern via a ladder. The corridor to the quarters looked almost inviting. Vine plants overgrew the walls and floor. It almost seemed like a botanical garden. The captain’s quarters were just off to the right.
In the quarters, there was a desk just to the left. It was covered with dust and earth. I wiped the top of the desk free with my glove. An engraving appeared. It was artistically done. A craft that did not exist in the industrialized areas of the UEE. Only someone who had the freedom to take their time would make something like this. A freedom that existed only in the frontier. It was individualistic manufacturing, the kind I knew from the Olympus bazaar in the Nul system. And specifically, I knew this engraving on this desk top. The lettering on the engraving expressed the spirit of the free peoples of the Borderlands.
Liberty, Equality, Independence.
Hypnotized, I looked at the engraving. This was the proof. This was the Reclaimer on which I had worked in the Nul System. It was the captain of the Reclaimer who had had the engraving made. I was so perplexed that I could not remember his name. In my head, I experienced a roller coaster ride through memories. The head carousel stopped at the notes I had found at the derelict settlement by the river. The notes from the captain and the crewman. They were on the run. Maybe they were still alive. I had to get back to New Babbage and find them. Now that I knew who they were, I had a chance.